People with risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes can take steps to prevent the onset of the condition. These risk factors include prediabetes, a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis.

Type 2 diabetes prevention primarily involves eating a nutritious diet, maintaining a moderate weight, and exercising regularly. As diabetes is a disease that can cause serious health problems, all preventive measures are worth the effort.

Keep reading to learn more about seven ways in which people can lower their risk of type 2 diabetes.

Some healthy vegetables that may help prevent diabetes.Share on Pinterest
Oscar Wong/Getty Images

Type 2 diabetes can lead to a range of health conditions, such as stroke, heart disease, blindness, and kidney failure, so preventing the disease may also reduce the risk of these serious complications.

Prevention involves adopting various lifestyle practices that boost health and also offer other benefits, such as more energy and better sleep.

Eating well involves including nutritious foods in the diet while avoiding foods that can harm health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend a diet rich in the following:

  • fruits
  • nonstarchy vegetables, such as spinach, asparagus, mushrooms, and broccoli
  • lean proteins, which include turkey, chicken, fish, tofu, plain Greek yogurt, pulses, and eggs
  • whole grains, such as steel-cut oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice
  • water and unsweetened beverages

The CDC advises avoiding:

  • sugary drinks, such as soda, sports drinks, and fruit juice
  • processed foods, including chips, granola bars, sweets, fast foods, preserved meat, and packaged snacks
  • alcohol
  • trans fats, which are in margarine, packaged baked goods, snack foods, and many fried foods

If a person with prediabetes has excess body weight, they can help reverse their prediabetes by losing 5% of their weight. Choosing healthy foods most of the time can go a long way in weight management because most of these options are naturally low in calories.

It also helps to learn about portion control. One way of doing this is to use the Plate Method, which shows the approximate portions of foods to put on a dinner plate. It recommends:

  • one-half of the plate should be nonstarchy vegetables
  • one-quarter of the plate should be carbohydrates
  • one-quarter of the plate is for protein-rich foods

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) advises doing the following to lose weight:

  • reducing the intake of calories and fat
  • eating breakfast daily
  • staying physically active
  • watching less than 10 hours of television per week
  • monitoring progress by checking body weight once per week at the same time of the day

Exercise promotes all aspects of health, including diabetes prevention. A person should aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise on 5 days of the week. If a person is unaccustomed to exercise, they should speak with a doctor to determine which activities are likely best for them.

People may find it beneficial to set a fitness goal and then begin a workout routine slowly, increasing the time and intensity gradually until they reach their target.

Smokers have a 30–40% higher risk of type 2 diabetes than nonsmokers. In addition, the more a person smokes, the higher their likelihood of developing the condition.

Conversely, the sooner someone quits, the earlier they will experience the benefits. Studies show that insulin becomes more effective 8 weeks after an individual quits. Insulin is the hormone that lowers blood sugar levels.

The ADA suggests that people trying to quit smoking make it as easy for themselves as possible by:

  • setting a quit date in the near future
  • deciding whether to “go cold turkey” or taper off and then sticking to that strategy
  • asking others for support
  • quitting at the same time as a friend or family member, if possible
  • throwing away all cigarettes, lighters, and ashtrays
  • talking with a doctor about using a nicotine patch or spray
  • considering counseling, acupuncture, or hypnosis

High blood pressure is another risk factor for diabetes. A 2015 meta-analysis reviewed the medical records of more than 4 million healthy adults. It compared these data with those from studies reporting new onset diabetes and high blood pressure. The analysis indicated that people with elevated blood pressure have a higher risk of diabetes.

The ADA explains that people can help control high blood pressure by:

  • choosing foods that contain less than 400 milligrams of sodium per serving
  • using spices and herbs rather than salt to flavor food
  • eating whole grain breads and cereals
  • speaking with a doctor about medications that reduce blood pressure
  • limiting alcohol consumption and asking a doctor whether it is best to avoid alcohol entirely

When a person experiences stress, the hormones that the body releases can make blood sugar levels fall or rise unpredictably. This mind-body connection means that if mental health improves, physical health may also improve, including bodily processes that can lead to type 2 diabetes. Consequently, it is beneficial to find ways to relax.

A 2018 study notes that stress increases the risk of diabetes and that yoga effectively reduces stress. The authors reviewed the body of research on the topic and found that various yoga techniques produce diabetes-related benefits. These benefits included lower blood glucose levels due to increased insulin production or reduced insulin resistance. Insulin resistance refers to body cells not easily taking up blood sugar.

Another relaxation technique is meditation. Research in 2018 explored the effects of 6 months of meditation on people with coronary artery disease. The authors used the meditation techniques of focusing the attention on breathing and on various parts of the body. Participants who engaged in the meditation showed a significant reduction in blood sugar levels.

Making dramatic lifestyle changes sometimes presents intimidating challenges. A CDC-recognized lifestyle change program for diabetes prevention offers support, encouragement, and coaching that can help a person persevere with the necessary changes.

The program involves:

  • lessons and resources
  • a lifestyle coach who has completed training in how to help someone set goals and maintain motivation when working toward them
  • a support group of individuals who have similar challenges

The cost of participating in the program varies with the location and type of program. A person can use the search tool on this webpage to find a program in their area.

Type 2 diabetes prevention mainly consists of adopting certain lifestyle practices, such as eating a nutritious diet, getting regular exercise, and maintaining an optimal weight.

People may also benefit from using relaxation techniques to minimize stress and joining a diabetes prevention program.

In addition to helping prevent diabetes, the above lifestyle practices help reduce people’s risk of developing other conditions, such as heart disease. They also offer general health benefits, such as increased energy and better sleep.

Read this article in Spanish.